Twisting and coiling, the serpent’s considerable girth pounded the dirt before darting at Gunhild. Fangs larger than his fingers punctured his shield.
Gunhild had done it before — a dance with death — marching across enemy ground while shielding himself from arrows that painted the sky and dodging spears sharp enough to gut a horse. Eternity did not scare him. He welcomed it; beckoned the call to greatness. He longed to walk the Hall of Heroes as his fathers before him.
“Gunhild!” his brother Wilhem yelled. No time. The serpent darted at him again. He swung his hammer, an attempt to bludgeon an impossibly fast target. The beast formed a ring around his legs and flung him on his back. The hard ground knocked the breath from his lungs. The gargantuan snake rose above him and plunged downward, fangs exposed. Gunhild rolled aside and swung again, but the creature was too quick; it’s movements unpredictably shifty.
“This!” Wilhem shouted again, tossing a sword his direction, but Gunhild shunned it. Swords are for cowards. His hammer would be tied to his valor. A strike to the head with it had always been deadly. When he walked among the stars of Valhalla, those left behind would look upon his statue in awe. His stately figure would tower over them with his hammer at his side.
Gunhild stood and tossed his shield aside. The coiled creature loomed large in front of him. It’s long tongue flickered in a hiss. Gunhild firmed his stance, gripped his hammer in both hands, and charged the serpent. As he leapt forward, the beast opened its jaws and clenched down on its prey — nearly swallowing Gunhild whole. Streams of red fell from the serpent’s jaws as it feasted on Gunhild’s body.
Wilhem screamed, vaulted forward, and severed the monster at the neck with his sword. Gunhild’s hammer fell to the earth. The blunt instrument lay beside his lifeless body as his blood softened the coarse ground.
As Wilhem cradled his brother’s corpse, he kicked the hammer aside and placed his own sword in Gunhild’s already cool palm. “He will be remembered this way,” Wilhem said, wrapping Gunhild’s stiffening fingers around the hilt.
Gunhild had never lacked courage, only the right tool.
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